December 09, 2004

Dude, no way

As a native speaker of Dude (originally Northern Californian, influenced recently by Southern Californian speech), I feel the need to address Mark's "injured finger" interpretation of the Zits cartoon. Bottom line: I think it's just not possible to interpret "Dude?" as "Do you believe this?" or anything of the sort.

(Other native Dude speakers should please speak up if they disagree with either of these reasons; I'm relying entirely on my own intuitions here.)

Let's repeat the cartoon. The relevant panel is the second one.

The intonation indicated by the question mark in "Dude?" allows a very small range of interpretations for me, and they all seem to be contextualizable variants of the following two possibilities.

  1. Want some?
  2. Ready?

(I have to admit at this point that I haven't given this a huge deal of thought. Note that there are 25 examples of dude followed by a question mark in Scott Kiesling's Dude corpus of 520+ examples; in all of these cases it is a tag on a separate sentence, not an utterance on its own.)

(1) is most likely the right interpretation, though (2) is not incompatible with the cartoon -- maybe the exchange of gum is a ritual between these two characters, and one is asking the other if he's ready for class. If there really was an injured finger involved, any other (non-rising) intonation ("Dude." or "Dude!") would work to mean "Hey, check this out." But, for whatever reason, the question (rising) intonation doesn't work to mean something like "Do you believe this?" or "What do you think?" or anything of the sort. In fact, just trying to imagine a person saying "Dude?" and meaning something other than (1) or (2) really does sound like that person just has a limited vocabulary, not Dude competence.

On a related point, I have seen BASEketball. It wasn't nearly as good as Parker & Stone's various other efforts, but I do remember the all-dude bit that Mark discusses here.

Remer: ... Dude, quit thinking about yourself for a change!
Coop: Dude, I'm not gonna cave in! End of story, dude!
Remer: Duuude??
Coop: Dude!
Remer: Dude!!
Coop: Dude.
Remer: Dude!
Coop: DUDE!
Remer: Duude!! [Coop opens his mouth but says nothing. Remer continues firmly] Dude.
Coop: [speechless, mouths around for something to say] I guess you got a point there. All right all right, look. Maybe I was wrong. From now on... we're full partners.
Remer: Really?

Here's an audio clip I found of just the all-dude bit. If you listen closely to Remer's first dude (transcribed "Duuude??" above), you'll notice that the intonation is emphatic (falling-rising), meaning something like "What the hell do you mean?". Again, a simple rising-intonation "Dude?" here would not fit the context.

(Note that the page where I found the link to the audio clip transcribes the passage this way:

Dude. Dude. Dude. Dude! Dude! DUDE! DUDE! Dude.

That is, with no question marks anywhere at all.)

I agree with Mark that a video clip would be good, just to see just how much of what Remer and Coop are saying to each other might be recoverable from context, body language, etc. My memory of the scene, however, was that the all-dude bit was purposely over the top. The point is that Remer and Coop are such close friends that they can communicate almost telepathically; if they had used Dude-speak completely "correctly" during this exchange -- that is, such that native Dude speakers could more or less follow it -- that point would be lost on that part (probably 99.9%!) of their audience. (Parker & Stone do get the Dude-speak right throughout the movie in general, of course -- they, and probably the entire cast, are doubtlessly native Dude speakers.)

Update: James Thompson (another native Dude speaker and Parker & Stone watcher) tells me that he recalls understanding the all-dude exchange perfectly, and notes that the VHS copy he owns has other versions of the scene that are also understandable. I could not, however, get James to tell me exactly what point it was that Coop acknowledges that Remer has.

Remer and Coop share another (shorter) all-dude moment later in the film, ending in a long screen kiss:

Remer: Oh, shit, Coop, I'm sorry. I guess the money did go to my head.
Coop: No I, I'm sorry, Remer. I ...think I've got a lot to learn about sharing.
Remer: Look at me. I've become everything I used to hate.
Coop: Yeah. Maybe we ...just grew up too fast.
Remer: Our worst enemy turned out to be
Coop: [they look lovingly at each other] Dude.
Remer: Dude.
Coop: Dude?
Remer: Dude. [gives Coop a French kiss. They go at it for several seconds before a fireman pops up next to them]

Coop's final "Dude?" here could have something along the lines of the "Ready?" meaning, but audio/video would help to settle that.

As long as I'm admitting that I appreciate Parker & Stone's work ...

Watch/listen to the "Buddy" skit on Adam Sandler's comedy album They're all gonna laugh at you!. [Click here, then click on the sepia-toned album cover (left-hand side of the screen, the last of five album covers). You can see three skits from the album, one of which is "Buddy".]

There are six male characters in this skit: two of them constantly say "buddy", two others constantly say "dude", and two others constantly say "homie". (In the skit these are all assumed to work just like "dude"; I wonder how accurate that is.) All three of these words are used as utterances on their own several times -- especially once all six characters are on the scene -- but there are only two three occasions in which I would transcribe such utterances with a question mark (or two). Both Two involve "buddy", one involves "dude".

  • Buddy #2 drinks too much of Buddy #1's drink. Buddy #1 says: "Buddy??", with a falling-rising intonation very similar to Remer's "Duuude??" in the BASEketball scene above.
  • Buddy #1 has his foot on Dude #1's chest. Buddy #1 says: "Buddy?" with rising intonation, offering Dude #1 a beer. (This is again the "Want some?" meaning in the Zits cartoon above.)
  • Train crashes. One of the Dudes (hard to tell which) says: "Dude?", with rising intonation. As Alexander Koller points out, this Dude appears to be addressing the other Dude (or anyone): "Dude, are you there?". So much for (1) and (2) ...

Update #2: Here's another film (appropriately called "Dude"), courtesy of James Thompson.

[ Comments? ]

Posted by Eric Bakovic at December 9, 2004 12:54 AM